Pronouns

two friends standing together on coming out day

We are committed to working toward an affirming campus community.

CSGD is dedicated to supporting students, staff, faculty and alumnx with marginalized gender identities and gender expressions. Language, including the thoughtful and conscientious use of pronouns, is one important step towards an affirming campus. We encourage all members of our community to share and ask others for their pronouns. 

Introduction to pronouns

Pronouns are the words that we use to refer to a person in place of their name. Pronouns are helpful linguistic tools, but they also are meaningful tools to communicate identities and experiences.

Examples of usage:

He/him: Jordan went to the Brodhead Center to eat dinner, but he forgot his DukeCard.
Xe/xem: Maria left xyr backpack and xe has an important paper in there, can you go grab it for xem?
They/them: Jin has a midterm next week, but they haven’t begun to study yet – they’re so busy with other work!
She/hers: Erica is a dynamic speaker! Her presentation to our group left everyone feeling inspired. She really did well!
None: Mateo is hosting office hours tomorrow afternoon, be sure to stop by as Mateo can help with the challenging concepts from last week’s lecture!

There is no exhaustive list of pronouns, but most of us are likely already familiar with a few commonly used ones. Many people use one or a combination of the following pronouns: he, she, they, xe, ze, and more. Some people do not use any pronouns and are called by their names. Everyone has a way to be referred to – learning someone’s pronouns is essential to communicating respectfully with one another.

Pronouns are especially relevant to transgender and non-binary students, staff, and faculty, who may experience misgendering, that is, the intentional or unintentional incorrect use of pronouns to refer to them – often in their daily lives.

In order to create a campus environment where all community members can thrive, including LGBTQIA community members, we must be intentional and proactive about our pronoun usage.

Pronoun Resources

These resources are designed to aid the Duke community in the thoughtful and valued practice of sharing and asking for pronouns.

More than pronouns

Pronouns aren’t the only language that communicate assumptions about gender. Many common phrases used to refer to groups also have gendered implications – such as “ladies and gentlemen”, “guys”, or “boys and girls”. These phrases make assumptions about the group you’re referring to and enforce a binary that fails to include non-binary people – and can easily be more inclusive with small changes. Try using phrases such as: “guests”, “class”, “everyone”, or “y’all” to refer to groups in a more inclusive way.

A note on language

Pronouns help us communicate our gender identities and expressions, but are also relevant to communicate our cultural, linguistic, and ethnic identities. While this guide primarily discusses pronoun usage in the English language, there are many ways gender exists in languages that aren’t listed in this guide.

Furthermore, it’s important to consider how and if gender shows up in various languages. For example, many words in Spanish are grammatically gendered, and as such some have shifted to using an X in the place of o/a to communicate gender neutrality. Languages like Japanese or Korean do not utilize gendered pronouns. Languages like Malay or Swahili have no grammatical gender. These examples illustrate the intertwined nature of gender, language, pronouns, and cultural identity – an important consideration for educators, peers, and allies looking to create more equitable and inclusive spaces via pronoun usage.

Don't make assumptions

While pronouns communicate something important about our identities and experiences, they are not inherently connected to any gender identity or expression. For example, if you know Jade is a woman, it may not mean that Jade uses she/her pronouns.

You can’t make assumptions about what pronouns someone uses based on your perceptions of their appearance or gender expression. The only assumption you can make, is that you don’t know what pronouns someone uses without them explicitly telling you. People may have pronouns they use in different spaces. For example, a student may feel safe using some pronouns with their friends and with you, and may use another set of pronouns in a space where they are not out. Always follow up with questions to gain a sense of when and where to use certain pronouns with an individual.